Laugh or implode
Martha Wilson was born in 1947 in Philadelphia (Pennsylvania, USA). The work of the artist was recently shown in Paris (Centre Pompidou), Basel (Art Basel Unlimited), Stockholm (Moderna Museet), New York (Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum) and Vienna (Kunstraum Niederösterreich).
A major retrospective exhibition of her works, Invisible – Works On Aging (1972– 2022), is currently on view at the FRAC Sud in Marseilles, France. She is represented by the P•P•O•W Gallery (New York) and the Galerie michèle didier (Paris and Brussels).
After Hans-Peter Feldmann, Thomas Bayrle, Jonathan Monk, Wim Delvoye, Karin Sander, Daniel Buren, Mel Bochner, Rosemarie Trockel and Franz Erhard Walther, Lab’Bel is entrusting Martha Wilson with designing the tenth Collector’s Edition Box.
Martha Wilson’s Collector’s Edition Box is curated by Sylvie Boulanger.
WHERE TO FIND MARTHA WILSON’S THE LAUGHING COW® COLLECTOR’S EDITION BOX?
The box will be premiered on Lab’Bel’s stand at the Paris Internationale art fair, October 18-22, 2023.
-At La Maison de la Vache qui rit (www.lamaisondelavachequirit.com),
-At the Walther König & Cahiers d’Art bookstore at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris,
-At the bookstore/giftshop of the Frac Sud in Marseilles,
-At the bookstore/giftshop of the Frac Picardie in Amiens,
-At the gallery michèle didier in Brussels,
As usual, the Collector’s Edition Boxes can also be bought online in the fall, at www.boutique.lavachequirit.com, until supplies last.
Martha Wilson is undeniably one of the most important and socially conscious US-born artists of today, and a lifelong advocate for democratizing and using art as a path to freedom. Through her work, Wilson has been leading a true “culture war” since the 1970s, aiming to reach and move a large audience and especially those who do not have easy access to art—an effort that resonates with Lab’Bel’s approach to distributing the Collector’s Edition Boxes. In that regard, Wilson’s early work can be seen as visionary.
In the early 1970s, Martha Wilson began performing in front of cameras, by herself, mainly using video art, photography and writing. At the time, she was teaching English literature at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in Halifax, Canada. She quickly gained recognition for her photo- texts and video pieces that explored her subjectivity as a woman through the use of roleplay, costumes, make-up and staging. Her ideas coalesced in the following statement: “My woman’s body is my instrument.” This claim led to her creating auto-fictional narratives that addressed the various gender roles that men project on women and that women project on themselves. Martha Wilson’s work remind us that beauty standards are first and foremost imposed on women, potentially scarring them for life, while men virtually escape them altogether.
For more than half a century, Martha Wilson has been putting to question the injunction that women often hear: “Be an image!”, inspiring and dialoguing with other feminist artists such as Eleanor Antin, Martha Rosler and Cindy Sherman. As a case in point, Wilson’s series of self-portraits, A Portfolio of Models, depicted her as a goddess and a homemaker, alternatively. Subjecting herself to different identities, Wilson encouraged others—everybody!— to strive for creativity and freedom. What’s more, she impersonated various celebrities, including First Ladies Nancy Reagan and Barbara Bush, and appropriated speeches made by politicians in public performances of her own. As she pushed for women to emancipate from social roles that are imposed on them, the artist willingly portrayed herself as ridiculous, ugly, old and vulgar. Radical humor became Wilson’s medium of choice, all the more so because it enabled her to go beyond boundaries: “If you don’t want to destroy everything, you have to use humor.”
For The Laughing Cow® Collector’s Edition Box, Martha Wilson has created an artwork that has been edited and printed similarly to an artist’ book; furthermore, it can be offered beyond the confines of the art world, unexpectedly catching the eye of buyers in the aisles of grocery stores and supermarkets. Wilson absolutely loves the idea that her work for the 2023 Collector’s Edition Box will be looked at, read and collected by the broadest audience possible.
In line with her lifelong artistic approach, humor is the force that Wilson has harnessed for her reinterpretation of The Laughing Cow® and the accompanying tagline— a joyful, good-natured kind of humor that allows for both authenticity and creativity. Indeed, the artwork’s message is addressed to everybody, as evinced by the cheeky slogan that Wilson has added to her drawing of The Laughing Cow®, beautified by makeup: “Laugh or implode.”
In 1976, Martha Wilson turned the loft apartment where she lived into an artist-run space for performances and exhibitions, the Franklin Furnace. Its focus has been to explore and promote artworks whose non-dogmatic and cheap counterparts are widely distributed, such as artists’ books, installations, video and performance art. In the eyes of Wilson, artists’ publications, performances and films absolutely constitute artistic mediums in their own right, and they can be used to produce “democratic” artworks that are easily circulated outside of the art sector. Moreover, objects that are printed and published on the model of books (or that of a box of cheese) question the very definition of art, since they are industrial in the sense that several people contributed to producing them, breaking with the tradition of idolizing artists. As the international art market undergoes accelerated growth, Wilson more largely addresses—lucidly and uncompromisingly— the ways in which it manufactures artistic identity and worth, with an emphasis on the precarious condition of women artists. For Wilson, performance is “the place of intersection between image and text.”
The list of the exhibitions and projects that the Franklin Furnace has made possible is extremely impressive, as it virtually includes all the US artists of importance of the last forty years. From 1976 to the present day, the Franklin Furnace has held exhibitions on Franklin Street in Manhattan but also in public spaces in popular neighborhoods to reach more passersby. Today, Franklin Furnace also grants fellowships to artists, while centering artistic education and publishing rarely-shown artworks online for the broader public to enjoy.
Martha Wilson has been an agent of change in the art world throughout her life, advocating a greater and more democratic attention to individual artistic sensibilities. She has striven to freely cross if not completely abolish the boundaries between elitist and popular culture at each stage of the creative process. A pioneer of “self-staging,” she has dared to embrace social networks and their potential as exhibition spaces, since their boundless scope might make tangible art spaces obsolete. As Wilson puts it: “the social media environment has made equals of artists and ordinary people.”
Sylvie Boulanger, Curator for the 2023 Collector’s Edition Box